Overview of Creative Process

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Guilford’s FFOE model is a useful way to talk about and model creativity skills with kids, but breaking creativity down into skills does not address the macro or overview, the broader process of creating things. Creative process is a favorite topic with anyone who sees him/herself as a creative person. Researchers and psychologists love to describe it as if to “capture” it. As teachers, we need to have some sense of what creative process looks like so we can facilitate it in spite of our step-by-step curriculum. Here is a very brief summary of how experts describe it.

Lists vs. Iterative Cycles
Psychologists and theorists have studied creative process and generated lists of steps in creative process and techniques to stimulate this process, some as consultants to business. Wallas, Osborn, Basadur, and DeBono decribe steps in creative process and ways to stimulate them, especially for creative problem solving. Just by the nature of lists, these steps appear to follow one after another. Artists, writers, and even scientists, however, explain creative process in terms of iterative cycles: steps forward followed by jumping back and repeating over and over. They trace their creative process through messy stages of idea collecting, building, tearing down, rebuilding, abandoning, revisiting, and elaborating, perhaps never achieving “completion.” Their descriptions are sometimes more personal, but they share some common findings with the theorists. Those who "create" on commission or to accomplish a specific project, such as designers and even Pixar filmmakers, provide further descriptions that overlap with the theorists and artists. Even scientists chime in with a description of How Science Really Works, pointing out that scientific method, a creative problem solving process, is not a linear set of steps. You can read more of each description at the specific links below.

Commonalities across descriptions of creative process, whether personal, scientific, or clinical:

  • idea collecting (Guilford's fluency)
  • incubation time
  • repeating, cycling back, or starting over midstream, picking up again mid stream (permission for informed do-overs)
  • setting aside or leaving behind pieces and possibilities (sorting/set aside pile)
  • implied or intended never-ending cycles (answers make more questions, works spawn further works)

Many of them also include:
  • a giving up/release/publishing stage, a final analysis (if PAID, this step is final. If not, it may simply be part of the next inspiration)
  • place(s) where SHARING is invited or necessary: either testing response from an audience or against some sort of criteria—with the possibility to revisit/improve again

With these commonalities in mind, we can listen to students and ask them about their own process. We can also plan to build some of these into the habits of our curriculum.

Creative Process Links and Resources:

9 Warning Signs of an Amateur Artist
A professional artist describes how creative process fits into the discipline of seeking out creative inspiration and working to make creative process a habit. Another article to offer as an option for students reading and reflecting on what makes their creative process work. This one especially debunks the idea of simply “waiting” for inspiration.
Are You an Armchair Creative?
A creative professional talks about the circumstances of being creative, in this case the chairs. Another possibility for students to read and talk about their creative spaces. Ask what the "creativity killers" are in your students’ lives.
An Artist’s Bookshelf: The Creative Habit
A post about Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit. Use this post to open discussion on how creative process gains from MAKING it a habit. Since you are unlikely to have the actual book, the extensive quotes in this post will give students a taste of the book – and perhaps send them to the library or their Kindle for more.
The Artist’s Creative Process
Elizabeth King posts and shares a diagram of her view of creative process. King factors in outside influences a part of the process, almost as a roadbed beneath the rolling cycle of creativity. King’s many posts on creativity in school are good reading for teachers.
Creating a mood board with Evernote
A designer explains how to use Evernote as part of their creative process in working for a client. Share this as an option for the “messy stage” of creative process and as a possible way to leverage technology throughout a creative process.
The Creative Process Unveiled: Tapping into Your Creativity
Poet Ami Mattison debunks Wallas but actually adapts it the Wallas model to describe her personal process
Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading.
The writer of Eat, Pray, Love talks about her creative process. A bit more obscure for students than Brooks video, perhaps.
How Science Works
A cyclical/iterative description of scientific process is more realistic than the simple list of steps in Scientific Method. Be sure to try the interactive portion with mouseovers in The Real Process of Science. Share this in any science class as a scientist’s view of creative process. Read more in the How Science Works review from TeachersFirst
The Keystrokes of a Genius, or, The Simple Software That Could - But Probably Won't - Change The Face of Writing
A MUST for sharing writing process as a creative, iterative endeavor! This etherpad recording shows the progress of an author writing a blog post. Watch it grow and evolve, then have students record their own writing process on etherpad! Learn more about Etherpad in this review.

Title: One Man Band (click to select The One Man Band from the list) 

A video by Ben, a high school student, talking about his process creating music videos. This is must-watch for high schoolers investigating their personal creative process. 
Pixar’s Motto: Going from Suck to Non-Suck
Despite the “classroom-inappropriate” title, an excellent look at Pixar’s process from concept to storyboard to digital animation to release. The discussion includes issues of making mistakes, perfectionism, and having the result end up far from the original plan. A GREAT article to share with middle school and up to talk about creative process… despite the title!
Quotes on Creativity
Useful for discussion starters or bulletin boards. Maybe as writing prompts for blogs?
The Space Matters
Seth Godin’s very short piece about the role of school environment in “getting stuck” in your thinking. Possibly a good quote to share on a wall or ask about when discussing creative spaces.
Ted Talks: Amy Tan on Creativity
Another thought provoking video from Amy Tan. Students will love her mention of getting a B+ on a writing assignment, but this video is philosophical and sophisticated—perhaps best for highly able or mature students. While not inappropriate for school, it may simply go over some heads. Great for an AP lit/writing class!
TEDxFullerton Kimberly Brooks - Creative Process In 8 Stages
Artist Kim Brooks talks about her own creative process and also includes many quotes and observations from other artists, writers, and musicians. A terrific overview to spark class discussion and reflection among high school students.
Virginia Woolf > Quotable Quote
A brief, poetic quote on the writing process. Great for sharing as a writing prompt or English classroom bulletin board. Read more about the site in a Good Reads review from TeachersFirst.
Wallas' Four Stages of the Creative Process - Team 50
Humorous, though simplistic video depicting Wallas’ four stages of creative process.
What Gets Your Creative Butt in Gear?
Creative people blog a lot about what gets them going, as in this discussion post. Preview for appropriateness before sharing. Try posing the same question to your students?
What is Creativity? Four Stages of Creativity
A fairly simple article about Wallas’ model. More for teachers than students